The Chuck D of Public Enemy Interview Part II: Whos Your Hero
Whos Your Hero.
We live in time where trust, loyalty and honesty mean absolutely nothing. Folks say they are your friend one minute and hate you the very next second. Hate you so much they could care less if you live or die and will tell you so to your face probably in the presence of your children. Whos Your Hero.
Cats are smashing their best friend’s girl–with a smile–think it’s cool and actually brag like it’s an accomplishment and something to be revered. Dude, if she got down with you then she damn sure would do the same with someone else twice as slimy. Same goes for the women ladies–don’t front. Your precious sugar and spice drenched femininity doesn’t afford you anything until you earn respect and understand it ain’t all about sex. Your father knows you are better and surely sheds a tear when he sees your name scratched on the unforgiving walls of a workplace bathroom stall. Whos Your Hero. What happened to loyalty and honor and trust and love and respect and decency and friendship and perseverance through true struggle? Everything is an excuse. We seem to justify whatever regardless of how sick and monstrous stuff really is and blame our fallacies on everything but ourselves. Whos Your Hero. When was the last time you actually told your mother you love her and meant it after a phone call? Trust me I know, when she’s gone, she’s gone and her last words will be a constant reminder just how much you truly miss her and need her comfort in your life. No one deserves that eternity. Call your mother, go see her, look into her eyes, tell her you love her and hold onto her like your child’s recurring dream of effortless happiness past.
Please be peace with yourselves, but let’s get it!
Nolen volens, who is your hero?
Chuck D: I think the whole thing with Marion Jones was kinda stupid. Taking medals back because we caught her in a lie; I think that was a bit too much.
It goes right back into the area of Blank (Arthur) with the Falcons and Michael Vick. It’s like OK man…How far back do you wanna go? Do you want to go back where dog fighting is this thing where all these young people are not given a chance to figure into society? Dog fighting and living through the violence…having pit bulls and dog fights…is just an extension of the violent undertaking that comes through the veins of Americanism?
Are you looking that deep into it?
Is Michael Vick a martyr for the way a lot of young cats in the ‘hood live their lives?
Or is this a lesson to get Michael Vick and get everybody else to understand the severity of bringing your hood up into the mainstream?
Michael Tillery: Michael Vick was Black Superman similar to Muhammad Ali–in an athletic sense obviously.
Chuck D: You are right about that. This was the first time in a long time where I’ve seen a nation of White folks say, “You know what, the field don’t count here. We don’t give a damn if they win or lose. We don’t care about no incredible nigger exploits on the field right now. We want a bigger fish. It ain’t about achievement, it’s about fishing now. We done caught a big fish. How ’bout that?”
MT: Michael got in trouble when he went up in Green Bay in the winter time and chopped down Brett Favre.
Chuck D: Yup! He was in trouble when he stepped off the field in Atlanta and put his middle finger in the air.
MT: Yeah. This is what I tell people all the time. There’s probably a White person sticking their middle finger up this very second. A million people…(embellishing of course) 200 hundred billion have done it. I’ll never understand why there was so much bullshit over Michael Vick giving someone the finger. Was that about jealousy and envy…firing hatred…in hopes of ultimately getting Michael Vick’s Black quarterback, running around so elusive and effortless, (with more team success way before Tim Tebow less the Heisman) behind off the field?
Hell when Bush did it was there as much outrage?
Oh it’s funny now huh?
Chuck D: I heard that. Let me tell you this much–although it’s a different sport right–do you think if Ile Nastase or John McEnroe if they gave the audience the finger would they be going through what Mike did now?
MT: Like I said Chuck, there would be LAUGHTER.
Chuck D: (chuckles) It usually is right? Matter of fact John McEnroe is doing a commercial right now capitalizing on his temper.
MT: Like you said Chuck, How far do you wanna go back?
Chuck D: They talk about violence in sports…I’ve never understood this. You have fights breaking out in a basketball game and all hell breaks loose, but in hockey there is a fight every fuckin’ game and nothing? There’s dumb statements like “Oh their Canadians and it’s a tradition of the sport.” Two White guys fighting on the ice and it follows the course of history so it’s alright. Two Black men…oh man..they want to see it, but Whites also want to control it. God forbid it spills into the stands like Ron Artest.
The bottom line is when Whites look at sports, they see race too.
MT: When someone dies–knock on wood it doesn’t happen–it’s going to be this huge tragedy although with a little common sense it could have been prevented.
You see hockey players and fans going at it all the time, but the tenor of reporting is waaaaay different…
I think it goes all the way back to when Kermit Washington basically broke Rudy Tomjanovich’s face.
Chuck D: Yup. It goes back to that. Here’s another thing. There was a time when they celebrated NBA fights. Guys who played in the sixties and seventies will tell you that fights went along with the territory. Knick announcers would tell you all the time how Willis Reed wiped out half of the Lakers in 1965. It was a part of the game.
When something went down you could almost hear the smile on the broadcaster’s face.
During the 1977 NBA Finals, what’s forgotten–because the NBA is trying to cool this image so much–is the fight between Dawkins and Maurice Lucas. I think Bobby Gross was hit by Dawkins and all of the sudden Maurice Lucas came up from behind him and smacked him. At the time Philly was up 2-0. So Dawkins and Lucas were ejected. The thing I remember is the next day in the press they said Dawkins ripped the door of a steel cage off because he was so hot and wrecked the dressing room.
That dude was a monster man. Ever since then they put a cage on Dawkins. They were not gonna let him get out of control. Up to that point, Dawkins was a problem for everybody.
MT: Damn right! He was Shaq!
Chuck D: Yo man! Dawkins was a problem! After that, Dawkins would be the cat who got two whistles in the first five minutes and would be sitting on the bench. What can you do after that. You have to sit out. Philly then had to go to Caldwell Jones which game them a different type of arrangement. I just went off on a deep tangent…Dawkins and Lucas…
Lucas was lauded and applauded. They said this was like a smaller David going against a bigger Goliath. Lucas was the monster tamer. You combine this with Kermit Washington/Rudy Tomjonovich? I can hear them now saying, “We gotta clean this up. Niggers can’t fight. In order for us to keep White people in the seats we can have niggers fighting.”
The next significant thing was banning people for cocaine.
The next was taking jewelry of the players necks. If you check out jewelry in 1980, yo man it was ridiculous. Cat’s was havin’ rope chains..matter of fact, Dawkins had at least six chains. I used to say if this cat goes up for a dunk and the chains get caught in the net, somebody is gonna die.
David Stern saved some of these cat’s lives with the chains ruling. I remember Ray Williams of the Knicks wearing this thick rope and saying man this is not gonna work man.
This was right before dookey Run DMC type ropes.
Just imagine if David Stern didn’t come along. One of those cats was going to come on the court with one of those joints man.
MT: You mean like Slick Rick trunk j-e-w-e-l-r-y?
The King of Trunk: Slick Rick the Ruler
Chuck D: Trunk jewelry on the court.
MT: That would have been crazy.
I wanted to go back to a point you made about two whistles being called on dominant big men within the first five minutes of a contest.
What is that? It’s beginning to be obvious–almost expected in big games.
Roy Hibbert of Georgetown last year in the tournament. He would have eight points inside of five minutes and then you heard the whistle. Then on the next possession, just as the announcers are talking about his first foul, here comes another ass splinter inducing foul. Dude plays defense. He’s not a hacker and was on the bench so much early in games it was ridiculous.
Chuck D: Maybe it’s because all eyes are on him so things are magnified. But I have to say this: Look back on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. All eyes were on them too so…
They both were good at easing their game into the game. They both came up with an awful lot of finesse for them to stay in the game. When Wilt was putting up 50 a game he was doing a lot of that with finger rolls and fade away pops. He dunked every once in a while, but most of his buckets would come on sweet–almost ballet–moves.
Same thing with Kareem. He developed his whole repertoire after they took out the dunk in college. He knew he was going to come up with the sky hook and good foot work.
Doing this took the attention off these brothas. Kareem was so adept with the handle and with his footwork that no one could even touch him going to the basket. That’s what made it tough for Shaq on the double teams. Shaq had to develop his game even at LSU when he was there with Stanley Roberts. He had to develop a way to be light on his feet. He really didn’t man handle people until maybe around that first Laker championship.
Remember when Shaq said I’m playing man ball?
That’s the first time I saw Shaq say fuck it, you better be able to handle me because I’m dunking on you and everyone else.
MT: Especially around the time when Sacramento was rolling. Webb seemed to pick up these quick ass fouls while Shaq was throwing Tyson bolos.
Chuck D: Yeah it was ridiculous for the opposition. Shaq was committed and people had to be thinking he was too fuckin big and strong to be playing that way.
MT: Yeah Shaq was a monster ’round that time. It’s crazy that recently he fouled out of four straight games.
Chuck D: It’s not looking good the rest of the way because Shaq now has a finesse game. If he doesn’t stick to his game they will call a foul. Same thing happened to Dawkins. To add to the point, it seemed like they figured out his Dawkins’ defense and he never got past the point of getting these fouls called on him. He never developed a less imposing facet to his game. Dawkins was big, strong, very dark and was not skinny. Kareem and Wilt–especially in their younger days could be finesse type of guys because of their physical stature.
Dawkins was big, black and brutal man so they were like naaaah, we can’t let this happen and I think that affected him. Once he believed he was the type of player that was going to foul and had to watch his step.
MT: One thing I remember about Dawkins…If you look at a lot of his career highlights, you see so many dunks that didn’t even count because he was catching charges.
Chuck D: Yup you are right on that. To your initial point, Dawkins came after Tomjanovich gets knocked out. The NBA was not having rugged ball by the brothas. They had to develop a Bob MacAdoo type game as a big man. Then Magic and Bird opened the NBA up to finesse game down low.
This is all in my humble opinion of course.
MT: I hear you. I probably agree with you 95% of the time here at least.
What’s going on with the Knicks? I happened to be sitting next to Ken Berger of Newsday in press row at the Lakers/Sixers game when they honored Doc and we were having a conversation about the Knicks. He just threw his hands up.
Chuck D: It’s the same thing when people ask me what’s up with rap music; there’s a lot of talent, but a lack of effort. You can’t try to be hungry. It’s either you are hungry or you’re not. The Knicks are well paid. Don’t blame Isiah. Isiah has treated them too nice–like each of them is a princess. They don’t have the heart and fire that Isiah has. Isiah has the wrong guys. It’s as simple as that. He just said the other day that you have to go through having a coach on the college level that teaches you structure–which prepares you for a professional coaching situation.
All the great players had a college coach that transformed their career. Jordan with Dean Smith. Isiah with our man Bobby Knight. Patrick Ewing with John Thompson. These guys were unbelievable father figures…Lou Carnesecca with Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin. Jim Boheim and Carmello Anthony for even a season. These guys get into the pros now and aren’t prepped enough because of coaching turnover or deficiencies on the staffs. Some people may say there are players that don’t need college coaches. Alright, but something comes out in the wash don’t it? Kobe Bryant had to mature somewhere down the line on how to deal with teammates. He couldn’t understand why Phil Jackson is probably the ultimate coach because he probably didn’t have anything to compare it to. Kevin Garnett is the exception because he’s humble. He was down to learn anyway they wanted to bring it. I don’t think anybody is like Kevin Garnett.
MT: The last time we had that long conversation we spoke about Kevin and what he went through before the NBA. He had to take care of his sister. Chris Paul dealing with the death of his grandfather. Sometimes you have to have adversity…
Chuck D: Kobe Bryant is deftly skilled and talented. He had loving parents and a wonderful father who was in the profession. He definitely needed a college coach to balance what he had at with his home training. He needed that second level.
Kobe has persevered. Something has come out in the wash. It had nothing to do with ball. It had to do with the maturity of the team. Darryl Dawkins keeps coming up, but a lack of a college coach probably hampered Darryl, but the lack of college coach didn’t hamper Moses Malone.
His college coaching was the ABA. It was very important that he played for the Utah Stars. Then he began to bounce around and pick up what he needed to prep him for the NBA.
There just aren’t many kids that come into the NBA with a fully developed sense of maturity. I think a lot of writers miss this. The NBA is full of a lot of underdeveloped players. They might be developed skill wise, but not as men. Most athletes are socially stagnate.
MT: It’s a direct reflection of society. We live in a time where we want everything now…
Chuck D: Also being raised on how much people make. It’s not about what you did, it’s more about what you are worth.
That comes from slavery. You start bragging about what you are worth to the massa (we chuckle). We have to really reconsider that.
This image never changes does it?
MT: Scoop Jackson and I talked about implementing a RACE class into the curriculum. Taking it initially in junior high and then as an upperclassman. Do you think something like that would help in this society or would it have a detrimental effect?
Chuck D: If you truly teach people about music and culture they would learn about race. That would make it fun. You can teach Black history just by teaching people music.
Something like recorded music over the last hundred years. The ubiquitous folk–whoever they are–have made it systematic adversarial and taken music education out of the school system. You get our history by default teaching kids about Black music. Our music has meant twice and three times as much as a people.
Our music is code. Inside that code is a reflection of our time living when we weren’t allowed to speak loud and clear.
You had the beauty of Black news papers that popped up in the early part of last century. That covered a large part of our sentiment. The music has always had it. If you strip people of music and culture, you can definitely take away the history. You almost have to trick people into teaching the truth. The struggle and legacy of a people always scorned.
MT: This news is out of the cycle, but a death is a death and therefore deserves it’s proper reverence. What are some of your memories of Ike Turner?
Chuck D: I’m a musicologist. My first memories with Ike are with Tina Turner. For me to talk about how he abused Tina…It’s common knowledge because a movie. It’s common knowledge because of what happened in their lives.
When I think of Ike Turner as a musicologist, I of him being the co-founder of Rock ‘n Roll. The first Rock ‘n Roll record was Rockin’ 88. It was a Rock ‘n Roll sounding record talking about a car. Ike was a talent scout for a lot of the record companies to find out who the Rhythm and Blues artists were from the Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas area.
He was a primary talent scout. All in one swoop Ike Turner found B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf…He was able to tell stories about when Elvis comes in an peeks his head while he’s driving a gravel truck into one of the spots they happen to be playing in on Beale Street in Memphis.
It’s my firm belief when people like that pass away they take a lot of legacy with them. If they don’t document it themselves, a lot of their legacy becomes folklore.
Ike Turner has taken a lot with him.
MT: You make a valid point there Chuck. That’s what happens mainly with our people. We don’t have the means (experience and financial) to be able to work within the present media construct to make sure we are fully appreciated historically. We have to make it happen. It’s on us and no one else. If not, our history becomes a question of reality.
Chuck D: Yup. We end up ultimately questioning it just as much as anyone else.
MT: Anyone in music you currently follow?
Chuck D: I think you have to be a veteran in the field to make me go wow. Artists get better through experience of how to go about things. This makes for a better song, cohesiveness within the album and definitely for a better performance. I don’t want to always see somebody trying to figure it out. I wanna see somebody who has kinda got they chops down. Just like in sports, you can’t be player of the year as a rookie.
They have turned music into the same industry they have turned movies. Like the first two weeks we are going to judge how you are and then if it flows then we can have some patience. We can have some patience if you have a firm grasp in the business.
I’ll check out somebody from the Roots or seasoned veterans like Talib Kweli or somebody like OutKast. These are people that all have ten year careers. Wu-Tang Clan has a thirteen or fourteen year career now. They’re not rookies. Common is thirteen years in.
So when Lupe Fiasco comes two years in or Saigon comes along I like their efforts but they can build their respective careers by looking at the blueprint before them.
An artist has to be able to perform well. I didn’t call Jay-Z the greatest rapper of all time until I was able to see if he was comfortable performing. Once he was able to be diverse in all areas, and still is performing? That earns my respect.
MT: I still get questions from your first interview regarding you proclaiming Jay-Z as the G.O.A.T.
Chuck D: It’s the same with Michael Jordan. Mike was the greatest because he was the embodiment of those before him and he proved himself in the area of performing. He can command and control the crowd. He has a point of view. He’s learned different styles. He has a rare ability to hone his skills and take his ability where he wants to take it.
If Jay-Z was a pitcher he would be someone who had full command of his pitches and could strike you out…It couldn’t be Clemens (chuckles).
The most feared rapper is KRS-One. So he would be Nolan Ryan–somebody you definitely don’t want to get close to the plate with. He’s definitely somebody like Nolan Ryan–who at 45 could still throw it by you at one hundred fifty miles an hour and make you say, “Damn what the fuck!”
MT: I posted a video on TSF recently with Common, Q-Tip and KRS.
When Kris came on stage, the crowd went wild and I’m willing to bet half of the crowd didn’t know who the hell he was.
Chuck D: That’s one of the fallacies of history. That’s why ESPN is so strong. They are not going to give you a chance to say you don’t know who Dr. J is. Sports always reaffirms the value of its history.
We need to have that with rap but rap is run like a third grade ghetto room. The DJ’s and the MC’s are going to have to care take our own existence.
MT: Is it time for another Self Destruction Stop the Violence campaign? Would that work in these times?
Chuck D: Yeah, but I don’t think it will come from a record. Over the last twenty years, what’s been misunderstood is that when I was growing up, everything was about a sound. When you were able to see the artist perform on Soul Train or American Bandstand, Ed Sullivan Show and later on in videos, the video reminded you of what you heard first. The demographic that came up after the BET/MTV generation, they’ve quickly gotten used to hearing audio and video at the same time. In the last ten years, the youngsters will tell you the video was always the first thing they noticed about a song.
Driving into the city tonight, I had my oldest daughter who is seventeen and my youngest daughter who is fourteen. The radio station was playing the songs of the day and then Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC comes on. I didn’t say anything. I looked out of the corner of my eye to my oldest who was sitting across from me and she was nodding her head a little bit, so she kind of recognized it. I then looked to my youngest sitting in the back and no movement. My youngest wasn’t going on what she was hearing because she had no reference point. My youngest likes Run DMC, but it’s gotta be something like It’s Tricky. For a while my kids were Run DMC idiots. It’s totally a visual age for them.
Record companies gave you the audio and the video for free to get you to buy the audio. That’s why the record company model doesn’t work. It’s a backwards model that doesn’t apply anymore.
Why give you both free so you can try to go buy half?
MT: I was looking for some music for my kids and cd’s are down to ten dollars now?
Chuck D: Five in some cases. It’s a wrap man. The biggest sellers of cd’s are blank.
MT: What did you take from the BET Hip Hop vs. America?
Chuck D: It was taped the day after the BET Awards. I was happy to see Nelly, Mike Jones and T.I. talking. You hear them talk on the radio speaking banter, but to hear them speak on subject that affect them personally was good to hear. When Farai Chideya criticized Nelly for Tip Drill. He had to defend himself. Whether he’s right or wrong it was good he defended himself. When he wakes up in the morning he smells like a man, so let him talk like a man. It’s too the point where cats conveniently want to be babies. T.I. and Nelly wanted to speak and let their minds be heard, but there isn’t a forum for them.
That’s the problem.
The Hip Hop vs. America was toying with the thing. I was telling Debra Lee that she has a show here. She looked at me like she or I was an alien from another planet–like she didn’t get it.
That’s why I want to do a show where I can do a one on one with a T.I. or Nelly or Mike Jones. Make it a half an hour and ask some pertinent questions. Be some kind of Hip Hop Charlie Rose or something.
MT: That’s a great idea Chuck. I hope that becomes a reality.
Chuck D: Yeah, but people are stupid. They don’t see the worth. It will probably be some White folk that will see the worth before we do. They’ll produce it as something like me and negroes. Viacom is BET, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central. They’ve found it convenient to extend teenage years to thirty four. Any idea that comes up Black wise fit into a CEO’s demographic.
MT: This question has come up on The Starting Five prominently. Our readers have openly spoke of creating a Black Hall of Fame (not in the present construct).
Chuck D: Entertainment or sports?
MT: Sports. Do you think it’s necessary?
Chuck D: Yes, before we had disintegration. Integration that disintegrated, we had Black institutions and businesses that were a Black standard. I think when we had Black newspapers, Black restaurants and Black townships we at least had a structure of respect that mapped out the achievements coming outta the ‘hood. When someone makes the Black sports Hall of Fame and don’t make the Hall of Fame in whatever particular area journalism, sports, entertainment–whatever–I don’t think it’s a knock on any higher form, but the achievement of making it as a Black person or person of color needs to be recognized as inspirational for those who follow.
MT: Being in the field, I know sports would be documented, reported and announced differently if the majority of voices were Black.
Chuck D: Of course. Well if you didn’t have Black journalists in Pittsburgh and flooding areas in the late ’30s putting heat and pressure on MLB, it’s questionable if Branch Rickey would have even considered Jackie Robinson in ’44 or ’45.
The Black journalist has always been a necessary component to make people recognize like “Yo there’s another side to this story.”
See a lot of my conversation…and it’s almost like for a while Mike and you as a brotha can understand this…I’m not trying to racially generalize anything, but one time I had a suspended license in New York state.
For a whole year I learned to drive by looking in the rear view mirror (We laugh like every brotha should right now).
I talk with a rear view mirror approach. When folks say stuff ridiculous and I have to reach back in history for a parable or parallel comparison, to make a person say “Yeah? That happened?” When they come back with, “Oh this is a different time.” I might counter back with “In which way?” They better be quick, because I’m going to ask them about their history.
If they can’t handle their fuckin’ history, then how the hell are they handle what we are talking about?
Every law is based on some sort of historical footnote or it wouldn’t be a law Mike. A lot of the rules in the three major sports were implemented after the original rules. There is no three second violation if there isn’t a lane in the first place. There isn’t any shot clock on the top of the scoreboard because it used to be on the court. Cat’s would get hurt. It was outside the view of refs much of the time.
History creates the law that affects your state of existence in whatever path or time that your are in.
Louis Armstrong. Some people say Uncle Tom or Sambo or sellout or whatever. They don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Anyway, if he doesn’t create phrasing in the late 20’s then people don’t sing the way they sing for the last almost one hundred years. He changed the whole game. Before he came along people were like “duh, duh, duh, d duh duh duh.” Louis Armstrong went with the beat.
If a person don’t know that Mike, then a person is going on what they saw or heard on their perspective–which is limited ’cause they ain’t got no goddamn history.
Too many journalists, in music and sports don’t know their history to pass judgment on shit.
MT: How do we make sure things get seen and heard?
Chuck D: We have different tools that we’ve never had before. We have the Internet. It’s a fantastic tool and it may be questionable if we have this much freedom five years from now.
MT: You ain’t lyin’ there.
Chuck D: When I grew up I struggled to find sports. I found it wherever I could get it on the AM dial. I needed it. I needed it. I was forced to listen to stations I didn’t want to listen to. I couldn’t find anything. I used to listen to 3WE Cleveland radio in the middle of the night. But now through the Internet, there’s so much accessibility. The negative is you have lazy people who through convenience think it’s always been this way. It as been that way for a lot of people. I have a daughter in college born in 1988.
I can’t talk about a typewriter with her. I say you have to go get paper–carbon paper. She’s like “What!”
You have to take yourself out of your mindset and understand this is the mindset she’s in.
To her, a cd is old school. I can’t go back and say, “When I was watching Soul Train…”
My father has a whole lot of stories that look past my convenience.
We have to keep history in perspective. We have to use it as a tool. As Black folks we also have to use it as protection to keep our guards up.
Knowing your history in any profession takes the criticisms of others and puts them at bay. It doesn’t eliminate it, it puts it in check.
You better come right with your stat sheet.
MT: I can’t find it on Youtube, but did you do a voice over for Charles Barkley in a Nike commercial?
Chuck D: Yes I did the voice over for Charles in one of those commercials. Matter of fact, to give you a little trivia. That was a setup plan. Do you remember how Spike was with Michael Jordan?
MT: Yes of course.
Chuck D: Well Flav was supposed to be Flav in that commercial, but he had a run in with the law and killed that connection to the NBA. The shooting back in the day killed that whole deal.
Now Flava Flav is back again.
(Photo: Hannah Buck)
Flava Flav for goodness sakes!
MT: What do you say to those who say Flav is minstrel?
Chuck D: Flava Flav has always been the same person. He’s never changed. He does his own thing without Public Enemy. When he’s in a Public Enemy context it’s no different than the family…
You know how Black families are. They always got that one character (We crack up).
If White folks don’t understand, we even had a president who understood that.
Billy Carter. Remember Billy Carter? He put so much heat on the president.
But at the end of the day he still was family.
Whos Your Hero